Ask Old World bakers what makes a bread artisan, and many will say the key is in the long fermentation times of the dough.

“The biggest thing for us is fermentation,” said Anthony Ambeliotis, co-owner of Pittsburgh-based Mediterra Bakehouse in an episode of Baking & Snack’s podcast Since Sliced Bread.

“You can automate and do things to ease production or help yourself scale, but don’t compromise on fermentation.”

Such extended fermentation is critical in developing the flavor and rheology that defines artisan bread. While there isn’t room to compromise this process, bakers can find labor savings by automating the storage and delivery of preferments, the mixture of dough components that ferment before being added to the mixer. These can include sourdough, levain, polish, biga and sponge.

“Automating the delivery of ingredients to the mixing process can be an excellent place to start,” explained Jason Stricker, vice president of sales and marketing, Shick Esteve. “A properly designed and installed ingredient system can provide highly accurate and repeatable operation in the bakery ensuring that the highest level of quality and consistency can be achieved.”

Shawn Hasley, director of food systems sales and services, Zeppelin Systems USA, noted the storage and use of liquid and sour ferments is prime for automation.

“The ability to store larger quantities in tanks as opposed to buckets and troughs helps with reducing the overall footprint and creates space within the production areas inside the bakery,” he explained. 

Zeppelin offers a range of equipment for preferments, including storage hoppers for precise dosing and agitator containers for dissolved or liquid yeast.

Ronald Falkenberg, regional sales director, USA and Canada, Diosna, added that the use of PLC controls allow bakers to better manage the status and consistency of their preferment. 

“With the benefits of automated Diosna sourdough and pre-dough tanks, artisan bakers can manage different steps in fermentation while heating and cooling the sourdough,” he said. “The ability to store larger quantities in tanks as opposed to buckets and troughs helps with reducing the overall footprint and creates space within the production areas inside the bakery.”

Diosna provides a range of fully automatic pre-dough systems, ranging from small, movable tanks to large pre-dough plants. Its Aroma Multiline for rye, wheat and pregelatinized pieces, for example, adjusts to various capacities, fermentation times and stirring intervals.

At the mixer, automation may similarly reduce labor needs while still preserving artisan dough integrity.

“The Mixer Guardian for AMF Fusion’s horizontal batch mixers advances AMF’s patented Dough Guardian technology by eliminating the need for skilled operator experience while ensuring unmatched dough consistency,” said Scott Walker, director of corporate engineering, AMF Bakery Systems. 

Mr. Falkenberg added that Diosna’s Wendel Mixer, with bottom discharge and automatic conveying, offers a gentle mix that maintains artisan texture and structure.

Once artisan dough is mixed, the common next step is the critical long fermentation period, which often requires labor and space that bakers may be short on.  

“It takes a number of people to get dough into bowls and move bowls around,” noted Nick Magistrelli, vice president of sales, Rademaker USA. 

Rademaker offers a conveyorized fermentation system that removes the need for this labor-intensive process. The system lets the dough ferment for two hours before entering its Dough Chunking Sheeting System (DSS), after which the chunks are inclined and loaded back-to-back on resting conveyors during dwell time.  

“Exiting the resting conveyors, the dough sheet is cut into chunks and transferred through a 90-degree curve to the hopper of the DSS,” Mr. Magistrelli said. “The resting conveyors will be situated in an insulated enclosure with an HVAC system for moisturizing, heating and cooling.”

John Giacoio, vice president of sales, Rheon USA, noted that this long fermentation process takes place in dough boxes or totes with its systems, reducing the amount of space needed. 

“If you were to take rest time after the product is formed, the space that is needed would be significantly more,” he said. 

Artisan bakers can also promote dough development through the use of dough retarders. Retarding, a cooling step after proofing, delays the fermentation process in a controlled temperature environment, allows the dough to recover and promotes product development.

“Used properly, retarding can enhance flavor notes, enable more consistency in dough processing and have a positive impact on final shapes and weight consistency,” said Jerry Murphy, vice president of sales, Gemini Bakery Equipment/KB Systems.

Editor’s Note: This article was reported before Jason Stricker’s passing. We’ve retained his quotes to honor the expertise he brought to the industry.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Artisan Bread Processingclick here.